(click on any photo to enlarge it)
Like many towns in the Rocky Mountains, Silverton, Colorado, got its start in the gold- and silver-mining boom of the 1870s. Mine bosses advertised in overseas newspapers to get workers, and ore was extracted at a frenzied pace; the town was gathering place, supply source, and entertainment headquarters. It was a rugged life for those determined enough to persevere through the brutal winters and in the perilous workplaces. Even the mules weren’t safe, as evidenced by the headstone pictured to the right.
An 18:1 ratio of males to females attracted women desperate for income, as the law looked the other way regarding prostitution. After all, prostitutes had to pay a fine of $5 each month to the city’s coffers and, with as many as 117 of them working in 1883, that steady revenue certainly helped balance the budget. They lived on the wrong side of the tracks and frequented the dance halls, saloons, and bordellos on that notorious east side of town.
In the quiet morning light, the town cemetery beckoned us to explore. Scattered beyond the imposing granite monuments of railroad tycoons and city fathers, a small collection of simple headstones marked where a few of these too-used bodies lay. The markers, softened today by dappled shadows, appear to have been purchased by the local historical or cemetery society.
I paused on the hillside, grateful that someone felt their lives and deaths were worth remembering, wondering whether most died alone in their anguish and despair, shaking my head at the pure calamity of it all. This is not the place for a tirade against the indescribable evil of the sex trade, which degrades and demeans women and children and destroys every shred of self-esteem and worth. The ongoing battle to free these prisoners belongs to all of us. Let me simply say that my heart was overwhelmed by these few tragic epitaphs describing women of Silverton. May they rest in peace.